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Three men are on the run after Mpumalanga police found them travelling in a bakkie with three stolen cattle this week.
A Mhala police spokesman, Constable Robert Makhubele, said the Mhala police were on patrol along the Thulamahashe-Edinburgh road when they spotted the bakkie.
"We stopped it to investigate but the three occupants jumped out and ran away before we could question them," said Makhubele.
Police impounded the vehicle and its cargo at the Mhala police station and broadcast on the local community radio station to find the cattle's owner.
Makhubele said people from Tsuvulani village identified the stolen cattle.
He said the police had received a phone call from a man who said he was one of those who had fled when the police stopped the stolen bakkie.
"The caller claimed he and his friends were looking for a lawyer who would hand them over to the police, but so far there's no sign of them," said Makhubele.
He said the fugitives had slit the tendons of the hind legs of the animals to prevent them from walking and to make it easier to get them onto the bakkie.
"We recently found three cows that had bled to death after their hind legs had been cut in the same way.
"They were left in the bush to rot," said Makhubele.
The police have warned people not to buy meat from people on the street or in public places because it might be stolen - and eating it could make them dangerously sick.